The Garden Route, a 300-kilometre road that meanders through the southwestern coast of South Africa, offers stunning natural beauty. It is aptly named due to the lush forests and river valleys you can see along the route. Starting from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape and ending at the mouth of Storms River in the Eastern Cape, the journey will also take you through characterful towns such as Sedgefield, Knysna, and Nature’s Valley.
For many people, access to the Garden Route is easiest from Cape Town since flying there is a breeze. Touch down, hire a car, and start your adventure. This road trip will certainly be one of the best that you have ever done, particularly for intrepid adventurers.
Many of the towns along the Garden Route, like Knysna and Plettenberg Bay were once big commercial hubs, providing resources for ships that stopped to trade and refuel. The first Europeans arrived in this area during the 17th century and made a living from hunting and the ivory trade. By the 19th century, more Europeans had arrived and decided to take advantage of the abundant hardwood forests available. They hired brave Boer woodcutters who ventured deep into the lush forest. Today, many of the rainforest trails in Knysna are used by tourists to experience the beauty of the local flora.
There are also two protected areas along the route worth mentioning. Established in 1964, the Tsitsikamma National Park is home to the popular Otter Trail, a hiking route that takes you along the coast, giving you the chance to see Cape clawless otters playing in the water. The Knysna National Lake Area is another gem, with a huge lagoon that’s home to the endangered African Black Oystercatcher bird.
The flora and fauna along the Garden Route vary incredibly. Playful dolphins and majestic whales can be spotted from a few towns along the coast, including Mossel Bay, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, between June and November.
Some of the towns also boast native animals. For example, you can spot Cape dwarf chameleon and the beautiful bird turaco in Kynsna; while Cape fur seal colonies make their homes in Plettenberg Bay.
To get the most out of your South African adventure, visit these exciting towns along the Garden Route and experience what makes each one different and special.
Spring (September to October)
September is the prime whale watching month so spring is the best time to head out on the Garden Route for those wanting to include whale watching in Plettenberg Bay or Mossel Bay as part of the experience. During this time, temperatures range between 15C to 25C, and it is usually relatively dry.
Summer (November to February)
Summer is hot and dry, with about ten and a half hours of sunshine a day. Temperatures can get up to 35C, but the nice coastal breeze will keep you relatively cool.
The summer months are definitely the peak season, with many people heading to the Garden Route during their Christmas and New Year holidays. Expect accommodation to be more expensive and the entire coastal area to be busier.
Autumn (March to May)
Temperatures are colder during the autumn months, but during the day temperatures rise to around 20C. There are fewer tourists at this time, so you can snap up some bargain accommodation.
Winter (June to September)
Winter is mild along the Garden Route and this season is a firm favourite for oyster fans. The 10-day Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival, held annually in late June or early July, draws a strong crowd. The town also hosts sporting events from rugby to marathons during this time.
Winter is also peak whale watching season, so keep your eyes peeled for these ocean giants as you make your way along the Garden Route. The best thing about the winter is that it’s the low season. There’ll be fewer tourists and great accommodation deals!
With so many beautiful towns to visit along the way, there’s a lot to see and do along the Garden Route. Prepare to enjoy excellent beaches, go on exciting hikes, explore fun flea markets and wine and dine in fabulous restaurants. Wherever you stop, you’ll experience a unique side of South Africa.
For those interested in primates, Monkeyland in Plettenberg Bay is an essential stop. This primate sanctuary offers guided forest tours where you can see monkeys, apes and lemurs lounging in among the branches.
To see the annual whale migration in all its glory, there are a number of boat cruises you can take part in. Such trips can get you up close and personal with these giant mammals, and if you’re lucky, you’ll also be able to see pods of dolphins frolicking in the waves. Alternatively, you can watch the whales from a number of land points along the Garden Route, such as The Heads or Brenton-on-Sea in the town of Knysna.